2AM, closing time: A c**ky bar manager with a shady past and a young handsome bartender discover a beautiful woman bloodied and unconscious in the bathroom of a late night lounge. When she awakens, Tony, Matt and the mysterious Rose are plunged into a stirring evening of dangerous role playing in an ever-escalating game of cat and mouse that forces them to face the dark shadows of themselves. As we begin to piece together the elaborate puzzle, nothing is what it seems. However, one thing is for certain: this Rose is full of thorns.
While closing up in the dead of night, barman Matt (Ryan Merriman) discovers what looks to be an unconscious girl lying on the toilet floor. Panicking, he runs to alert the meth-snorting manager, Tony (Rick Ravanello), who quickly establishes that she isn’t dead – she just passed out from boozing too hard. Nice guy Matt isn’t convinced she’s ok, as there’s blood on her face and clothes, but paranoid Tony refuses to call the cops – he’s nearing the end of his parole and terrified of going back to jail.
It doesn’t take long for them to identify the girl; her name’s Rose (Fairuza Balk), and as soon as she regains consciousness, she accuses Matt of raping and beating her. Rose admits she’s confused, and that it may not have been Matt after all. All she knows is; she was definitely assaulted by one of the two men. She refuses to let them call the cops, wanting to get to the bottom of what happened herself. It soon becomes clear that Rose has some deeper issues, and may not be who she claims to be. But then, what are Tony and Matt hiding from each other? Is one of them capable of violent sexual assault?
‘Dose of Reality’ wastes no time with establishing its solid premise: no lengthy opening sequence, no back story – just straight into the plot, and it does a fairly great job of keeping you constantly moving and on your toes throughout. What we have here is essentially a one-stage play; rarely does the action move beyond the confines of the bar, and even if we do, it’s just to the toilets or the back office. For the majority of the running time we are with these three characters as they bicker back-and-forth, playing mind games on each other, with the tone becoming increasingly hostile and violent as the hours tick by. It’s a risky move, leaning so heavily on performances, but the three leads are excellent in their respective roles. Especially noteworthy are both Balk –who has had a lengthy and varied career already – and Ravanello, who brings an emotional depth to a fairly despicable character rarely seen in low budget films.
The script is also up to the task, with well timed revelations and twists. Writer and director, Christopher Glatis, does a good job of keeping the performances in line and the tension tight – no easy task when you have such a wordy screenplay. The film itself looks good, with plenty of variety in shots, meaning the single location never feels stale or empty. Only once or twice did I feel that some bum choices were made for angles, but it might have been the best they could do on such a limited budget and probably limited time. Kudos must be given to Gingger Shankar, who composed the score. It really drives the pacing and drama here, and her presence adds an extra emotional dimension to the film.
With so much going for it, it’s sad to say the film finally derails itself in the last 10-15 minutes. Things take a turn for the extreme, plot wise, and several new characters are introduced that ultimately tie into a ‘twist’ that just seems to halt the mood of the film. What started out as an interesting battle of the sexes becomes something that doesn’t feel right within the subject matter. Sure, it is relevant, (and the twist DOES make sense) but it feels like a downbeat riff on a well-known bigger film (that I won’t name for fear of spoiling the viewing here) and doesn’t necessarily gel that well with the previous 75 minutes.
Having such a big, game-changing twist can be the death knell for a film, as you can likely lose everyone who was with you up to this point. The budget just isn’t quite there to make the ending work, either, and I can imagine it irritating many viewers. However, I always feel it’s worth asking; that even if an ending doesn’t quite work, is that enough to tarnish the rest of the film? ‘Dose of Reality’ luckily has tight direction, excellent performances and a gripping premise going for it, and even if things don’t work out perfectly in the climax, it’s still worth your time.